Childhood at the Odeon
My grandmother used to be a cleaner at the Odeon in the 60s. She would take me with her to work with her. Myself and another girl there with her mum used to race up and down the aisles looking for coins that people had dropped in the dark.
Saturday morning pictures was the highlight of the week, it was like an exclusive club with birthdays being remembered and competitions. I remember singing ‘10 green bottles‘; they had a huge (well it seemed at the time) contraption with a wall and bottles that fell down as the song progressed.
The first film I saw was Snow White; I remember being so scared of the Witch!! The worst bit of the building had to be the ladies toilets – Yuk!!! Didn’t stop us kids from gathering there!! My first proper date with my first husband was seeing Saturday Night Fever and my last visit was taking my own children to see Santa Clause the Movie.
I have so many wonderful memories of the cinema – I could go on forever.
Living in Alma Road from the 1960s to the early 1980s, my family and I were, of course, enthusiastic regulars, with the Odeon being right on our doorstep. My sister and two brothers could often be seen, dashing across London Road, our shilling ticket money tightly in hand (or was it sixpence?) rushing to get into ‘Saturday Morning Pictures’ before the first film started.
Saturday Morning Pictures seemed to us to be an adult free zone, with kids of all ages dashing and scrambling around like rats to get to their seats. How the management kept control of us all I’ll never know, as we certainly went on our own, as did most of the hundreds of children there. This gave our parents some welcome peace for a few hours on a Saturday morning. Sadly of course, this would not happen now, in these days of strict parental supervision/ health and safety/ lawsuits/ unsavory characters…
But what fun we had back then! First port of call after ticket purchase (that’s if your friends didn’t burst open the fire exit doors on the inside to get you in for nothing) was the sweet kiosk, where penny sweets were the order of the day: Blackjacks and Fruit Salads – four for a penny, Flying Saucers, Shrimps, Pirate Gold ….
Then quickly into our seats for some wholehearted foot stomping before the program started – hundreds of children in the balcony stomping their feet simultaneously – quite a racket I can tell you. For this reason alone, us kids preferred the balcony seats to the stalls, purely for the more effective resonance of having nothing solid beneath us. The poor projectionist was subjected to the same cacophony every time something went wrong with the film, or we were kept waiting longer than our excitement could stand.
The programme in my day was Mighty Mouse or an Atom Ant cartoon, followed by an episode of the excellent Flash Gordon serial, then the main order of the day – a ‘Children’s Film Foundation’ film. I can’t remember what else we saw, but I’m sure others can fill in the blanks.
Saturday Morning Pictures was, I recall, a kind of club and the manager at the time was very involved with us. One day, when Snow White must have had a re-release in the UK, the manager came up the aisle during one of the intervals and randomly handed me a roll of papers. It wasn’t until I came out into the sunlight that I found they were posters of Snow White and the Dwarves. He must have been sent them for promotion and decided to give them out to one lucky kid, who ended up being me! Needless to say they took pride of place on my bedroom wall.
There was another promotion in 1969, when Butch Cassidy & the Sundance Kid was coming up at the Odeon. When we left, we were handed a ‘Wanted’ poster in black with white writing. I didn’t, at that age, really understand what it was about but we were told to display them in our front windows- I realize now to promote the film. I duly displayed mine and forgot all about it until, one day, about two weeks later, I was sitting in my front room window and to my surprise, an honest to goodness cowboy, dressed all in black, complete with Stetson, chaps and gun holster, opened our garden gate and strolled up our path. As you can imagine, I was totally gob smacked, but managed to come to my senses enough to answer the door to him and was promptly handed two complimentary tickets to Butch Cassidy. I was of course far too young to go and I can’t recall what did happen to the tickets, but my goodness, I felt like I’d won the Lottery!
We didn’t usually have any live music at Saturday Morning Pictures but one morning, our local road sweeper – a chap, who went by the name of ‘Cuddles’ (a well known St Albans ‘face’, known to most of us children) – was invited by the manager to get up on stage in front of us and sing ‘Great Balls of Fire’ by Jerry Lee Lewis.
I seem to recall, that Jerry Lee Lewis was playing a concert in London. Cuddles had attended a few days before and being a huge fan, had invaded the stage. The Killer, as Jerry Lee was known, decided that was OK with him and Cuddles was allowed to do the vocals on the aforementioned song, accompanied by the great man himself. I think this story made the national newspapers and was a very big deal to us in St Albans, so much so he was invited to reprise the event for us children.
As a teenager, I took my two younger brothers to see ‘Lost Horizon’ in 1973, and will forever feel guilty at dragging them out about fifteen minutes into the film. The cause of this hasty exit was two local ‘lads’ coming and sitting next to me, one of whom scared the innocent life out of me by putting his hand on my knee! I have explained and apologized to my brothers since, but at the time, it was enough for them to see the lovely shade of red on my face for them to know not to ask questions. What an age of innocence it was.
Another odd occasion was when I came down the stairs to go and see a film at one of the new screens. Just before I reached the bottom step, an Arab sheik came running up, lifted me into both his arms and whisked me off into one of the projection rooms. I was lost for words and sadly can’t now recall if I was then kissed.
I have no idea why the projectionist would have been dressed like Rudolph Valentino. It may have been a promotion around the time of the release of Ken Russell’s 1977 film biopic ‘Valentino’. In any case, if ‘My Valentino’ is still out there, or anyone knows who he was, I would love to know what the heck was going on!
At the beginning of World War 2 in September 1939, aged 6, I temporarily moved out of a London suburb with my mother and sister to a supposedly safer environment at Blackmore End near Gustard Wood. My father continued to work in the City and visited at weekends.
On one occasion I remember vividly that we were allowed a treat and took a little country bus into St. Albans in order to visit The Odeon and see a Shirley Temple film. Having now consulted Google, I believe it must have been The Little Princess. I have no recollection of the content, other than the screen being filled with a close up of Shirley in floods of tears. Obviously with an empathetic nature, I immediately followed suite and was soon sobbing at which time my mother decided it was time to leave. I was told that if that was how the cinema was going to affect me then I wasn’t to go again!
And so it came to pass that I was around 14 before I entered another picture house. The Odeon, St. Albans was definitely my first film experience and little did I know that it would be my last for many years.
Neither did I know that twenty years later I would be living here and bringing up my family. I always felt deprived when friends at school spoke about their favourite films and stars, but seemed to accept the restriction imposed upon me.
I have a memory of the Odeon but I have no idea of the date: Myself, some school friends and children from around St Albans, all passed our cycling proficiency test and we were invited to attend the Odeon cinema to receive our badge and certificate on stage at the start of the Saturday morning pictures.
As we always went on a Saturday in those days, it was a great honour to see behind the scenes and be on the stage in front of our friends and family. We also got in free that day, so more pocket money that week to keep.
I must have been about 9 -11, as I was still in junior school at the time and am now, well let’s say mid 50s.
I remember that if we walked (and saved our bus fare) sat downstairs for 3d instead of upstairs for 6d, we would buy chips from the chippy opposite and walk home and think we had had the best day out.
I spent many happy hours in the Odeon in St. Albans between about 1954 and 1972. My overriding memories are of Saturday morning pictures for children. The cartoons, the westerns, Mr, Hubble, the manager, playing the Wurlitzer as it rose from the pits as we all sang along, ‘We come along on Saturday morning, greeting everybody with a smile. . .’
And later, the Stage Shows. Paul Anka in 1958. Jo Brown and many others. Trying to dodge in the exits as people left,. Taking girlfriends to films and cuddling in the balcony along with scores of other couples. The usherettes and ice cream ladies. Buying cigarettes as a 14 year old from The Cabin next door.
It was a theatre, as cinemas were in those days. Lots of space and brilliant decor and furnishings.I just hope that my memories and, no doubt, those of others, will be rekindled when the new Odeon once more opens its doors. Even though I may have to again, queue up London Road to get in.
We took our son there when he was little, in the 1970s. There was an IRA bomb warning this one time – my son said, ‘Is this war?’ He was frightened when there was an announcement that we could leave the cinema if we wanted to. Did we leave? Course not! It was a James Bond film!
It was great when you were old enough to get into an x rated movie! I won’t say the name of the film but I was only 12! Hope my mum doesn’t find out even to this day!
I can remember my mum taking us to the Odeon when we were little, buying ice creams before we went in- from a local shop- because they were cheaper there. You had to eat them really quickly!
We sneaked in without paying all the time – there were 6 of us in my family so there was no chance my mum could have paid for us to go. She didn’t know, obviously – she’d have been horrified. Then, once we were in, we used to throw things at the screen, and sneak up behind girls and scare them in the middle of a quiet bit.
I walked to the Cinema Club through the fields of Cottonmill, as a small girl. Being a bit of a nature buff in those days, I collected a pocketful of snails on the way. I sat in the cinema, snails forgotten, in the dark…
Catherine Mackenzie Davies
My first memory of the Odeon was Saturday morning pictures, cos I used get chucked out off to the pictures and be given my money to go down there. The kids in the street used to go, it used to be a sort of gang… a whole horde of kids!
I remember standing outside the cinema as a schoolgirl, with my friends, because you were not allowed to see an A film unless you had an adult with you, and we used to stand outside and say can we come in with you, you know, and wait until someone agreed to take us in, and we’d give them our shilling or whatever – there was no fear in those days, you couldn’t do that now…
You’d rush in and get your sweets at the kiosk; Flying Saucers, Blackjacks, Fruit Salads, 4 for a penny. Shrimps, Sherbet Dips, and I really loved Pirate Gold which was like coconut coated in a sort of a sugary dusting, brown. That was my favourite. They sold Highland toffee, I remember and liquorice pipes and liquorice fountains – sherbet fountains with a liquorice straw in the top. We used to use the straw and draw the sherbet up. And of course it used to get wet and cloggy and you just gave up. So that was great fun.
I visited the Odeon in 1945 when I was a war evacuee. I came to St Albans when I was 11, and I remember going to the Odeon cinema with the family I was sent to live with. It was a treat, they didn’t have much money. One thing I do remember was that people in the audience wore hats – some of them were quite big hats, and if you sat behind them, you wanted to ask them to take them off, because you couldn’t see that film! But in those days, you wouldn’t ask a question like that. I loved it there, it took my mind off worrying about what was happening to my parents and family in the East End, what with the bombs.